Thank You

Thank You

by Jay Williams

Published Summer 2013 in The Story Teller

It began with the flat tire.  Did it go flat on its own or did some teenage punk stick a knife in it?  Rusty didn’t know.  All he knew was that it was a bad way to start the day.  Work proved to be no better. One evil little miscreant walking into his office after another.  Each one with some offense to a teacher. Talking back, flipping off, cussing out, throwing an eraser.  Yeah, these little juveniles would some day lead the nation. Right.  Then the principal got on his case for not having the budget done. Hey, when was there time?  On the drive home in rush hour traffic he had two near misses as some ditzes, talking on their cell phones, didn’t notice the lane they were veering into was occupied.

He got home and collapsed in the chair in front of the TV.  One of the legs broke.  He moved to his dilapidated but comfy couch and turned on The Tube.  This would prove to be a big mistake, as it became the final kink that sent him over the edge on this lousy day.

Two hours later, Rusty turned off the TV.  After a massive overdose of celebrity hijinks, his mind buzzed and whirred with thoughts of glamour and excitement. Britney’s heaving chest after the dance routine zapped his ability to think linear.  Russell’s tale of high adventure at a bar in Barcelona zipped him around the world.  Brad and Jennifer’s on-screen bickering sent Rusty’s BP to new heights.

Enthralled didn’t adequately describe his celebrity fascination.  Addiction did.

Unfortunately, this drug began to wear off.  As Rusty slouched deeper into the cushions of his sofa and glanced around his living room, the stars began to fade.  Thoughts about the glamorous life of today’s media darlings disappeared and Rusty’s own life began to reappear.  He looked at his second-hand couch and 10-year-old TV and realized they didn’t compare to the rapper’s pad.  His vacation last summer to Cleveland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame couldn’t compete with The Stones world tour—including China.  His job as a school counselor paled to the Hollywood life of Tom Cruise.

Rusty’s life sucked.

“I could have been a rock star,” he said to his cat Harvey.  “If I’d only picked up the guitar instead of joining the chess club.”

Harvey acted uninterested.

He stood up and made a 360 of his dreary, small apartment. “I’d be in Hollywood now if I’d taken that part in the high school play instead of studying for the SAT.”

Harvey looked up at him, but then walked out of the room.

“If I was cool, you wouldn’t act that way,” he yelled after the bored cat.

The more he thought about the stars he had just communed with and the more he saw his own life, the more he realized his life was a waste.  He hadn’t climbed Mt. Everest.  He hadn’t made a platinum album.  He hadn’t won an Oscar. He hadn’t performed at the Kennedy Center.  All he had done was get an average job, an average apartment, in an average town and had an average cat.

He sighed deeply.  Perhaps he could change his life by having a spectacular death!

He walked to the window and looked out at the street scene.  Maybe he could get an Uzi and blaze out at the Wells Fargo Bank across the street.

Nah, he was too nonviolent to take another’s life and too people oriented to even risk injury to another.  Maybe he could buy a ticket to New York, the media capitol of the world, and jump off a skyscraper.  He pictured himself falling a million stories, people staring aghast out of office windows, but the landing didn’t excite him. Too painful, besides it would be horrific for whoever had to clean up his scattered body parts and pools of blood.

Too messy.

Similar thoughts of the use of airplanes, trains or even cars had similar consequences.  Too much of an imposition on others.

He settled on hanging himself in his apartment.  Sure, it wasn’t glamorous as he initially intended, it was as average as his life had been, but it was the least gruesome for those who would discover him.

Yes, hanging himself would be perfect.  It would be in familiar surroundings so he’d feel more comfortable; it would involve little or no blood so whoever had to clean up wouldn’t have to worry about nightmares; and it would be easy to carry out.  No fuss, no muss.  Perfect.  Perhaps not the way a Britney, a Brad, a Jennifer or Russell would snuff out, but it fit him.  He came to terms that he wouldn’t have a glamorous life or a glamorous death, but so what?  Why not just be true to himself to the end?

Although his mind still buzzed from celebrity overload, and his brain couldn’t comprehend how life around him could be so glamorous and his so dismal, he could not shake his inbred habits of thoroughness. Even though he could still picture a wafer-thin supermodel in a string bikini on a beach in France, he also realized he had a lot of loose ends he needed to tie up.  Although he was on the brink of snuffing his life, he couldn’t overcome his propensity to make sure everything was in its place.  His thoughts were split, yet he still had a driven soul.

The first loose end was Harvey.  Although the little guy had recently turned snobbish, he had been a good friend for the past 10 years.  Rusty couldn’t just abandon his friend to an unknown fate.  Harvey could even end up with a death sentence at a shelter.  No, he had to take care of his pal.

Old Miss Kelly had been a really kind neighbor. She even expressed a fondness for the tabby even when he turned up his nose at her numerous attempts at friendliness.

“So you’re going on a long trip, eh?” Old Miss Kelly said in her usual, sweet voice. “Well, that’s great.  You really deserve a break.”

“Yes, a break,” Rusty said softly.

“You are such a blessing to us all,” she continued.  “You work with those kids and you help me so often.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’ve helped you so much.”

“Oh, my, yes!” she said enthusiastically.  “Why, you’ve helped with my garden, you took out my trash, carried my groceries. You are such an angel. I’d be more than happy to look out for little Harvey while you’re gone.  It’ll be my way to say thank you for all you’ve done.”

Rusty felt a little uplifted by the nice compliments Old Miss Kelly paid him. It wasn’t enough to dissuade him from his horrific plans, but it did make him a little more cheery.

Why, you could almost say he felt a slight tinge of euphoria as he planned his death.  Not only that, but his encounter with her also set off a new line of thought for him:  he needed to make sure and thank all of the people who had been kind to him.  All those who lifted him up or helped him when he needed a hand.  It would be like AA’s 12-step program but instead of apologizing for past offenses, he’d thank people for past acts of kindness. 

He began to draw up a list.  There was Doug, a good friend who years ago set him up on his first date with his future wife.  There was Lute, who wisely told him when he needed to get out of the marriage that had turned cold.  There was Carmen who taught him how to tango. There was Ronda, who tangoed with him in his bedroom after the divorce.   There was Henry, who got him to play soccer again.  Steffie who got him to hit the night clubs again. Soon his list had grown beyond his first expectations.   It even included crusty, old Todd, who convinced him he could fix his own car and not get jerked around at the garage.  Yes, a long list.

He realized he needed to start thanking people right away to get it over with quickly before he lost his resolve.

“John, I don’t remember if I ever said this, but I wanted to thank you for helping me find my apartment.”

“Duuuuuddddeeeee,” John started in his pseudo-surfer way. “I should be thankin’ you for getting’ me on track.  Man, I was just a beach bum until you convinced me to open my own outdoor shop.”

“It just made sense. You were a natural.”

“No, I mean it, man.  I was goin’ nowhere and you helped me turn my life around.”

Rusty smiled, but trudged on.  Joe was next.

“Joe, I don’t think I ever told you how I appreciated you convincing me to go on and finish my masters.  I’d still be picking up towels after gym class if not for you.”

“Oh, come on, Rusty, everyone could see you were more then just a PE teacher.  You had so much more to contribute.  Besides, I should thank you for introducing me to Carmen. We went from dancing at The Lounge to dancing down the aisle.  We were the perfect match and you knew it.”

Rusty’s self-esteem suddenly peeked out of the closet, but quickly retreated back.

When he went to thank Paul, Paul thanked him for the loan.

When he tried to thank Lucy, she kissed him for fixing her plumbing.

When he thanked Judy for the surprise birthday party, she hugged him for the road trip to Fresno.

Everywhere he stopped, he got a return pat on the back.  It was after he left Jude’s place—where he saw the small picture shrine to him for his help in rebuilding after the twister—that he had his epiphany.

“Life isn’t about desiring or emulating the glamorous life of a handful of egotistical celebrities. Life is all about building a future. Living a good life by helping people and moving society forward.”

Unfortunately, Rusty had this epiphany just as he stepped off a curb and into the path of a speeding city bus.

Everybody assumed he had done it on purpose. After all, he had tied up all the loose ends and thanked his friends.  At his funeral, his friends lamented that he threw his life away after living a rich, rewarding, but short one.

Harvey, although disheartened over the loss of his favorite feeder, went on to fame and fortune (for Old Miss Kelly) by staring in numerous, popular cat food commercials.